Alarmed by a Reveal investigation, four Los Angeles city councilmen are demanding a crackdown on residents who are using millions of gallons of water per year during California’s crippling drought.

In a motion set for hearing Wednesday, Councilman Paul Koretz asks the city’s Department of Water and Power to consider “imposing severe financial penalties” and even shutting off water service for the largest guzzlers.

Councilmen Mitch O’Farrell, David Ryu and Herb Wesson Jr. joined the motion. Koretz contends that using millions of gallons of water during the drought is “a slap in the face to neighbors who have heroically complied with austere water use measures” during the drought.

In an Oct. 1 story, Reveal reported that the 10 biggest known residential water customers in the state live in Bel Air, Beverly Hills and other exclusive neighborhoods in the city’s mansion-studded Westside neighborhood.

In the 12 months ending April 1, one Bel Air customer pumped 11.8 million gallons of water, Reveal reported. That’s enough for 90 families.

That customer is the biggest known residential water user in California. Nineteen other residents of Bel Air, an enclave of wealth and celebrity, used more than 2.8 million gallons in a year, public records show.

The Department of Water and Power declined to identify any of the mega-users, citing confidentiality concerns.

Reveal’s story has provoked anger among Angelenos who have struggled to conserve water during the drought, now entering its fifth year.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has drummed up public outrage, spinning two columns out of Reveal’s report and shooting a video about his search for the biggest user in Bel Air. On Sunday, he described the efforts of a Westside “drought posse,” volunteers who were “scouring satellite maps, following neighborhood gutter flows” and even using a drone in an effort to identify Bel Air’s mega-user. So far, they haven’t found him.

The city has imposed fines on some residents for such drought-related offenses as watering their lawns on the wrong day of the week or letting runoff cascade into the street. But the Department of Water and Power says there is no city law against using enormous quantities of water, as long as the customer pays for it.

The councilmen want to give the water agency 30 days to come up with a plan.

This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.

Lance Williams can be reached at, and Katharine Mieszkowski can be reached at Follow them on Twitter: @LanceWCIR and @kmieszkowski.

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Lance Williams is a former senior reporter for Reveal, focusing on money and politics. He has twice won journalism’s George Polk Award – for medical reporting while at The Center for Investigative Reporting, and for coverage of the BALCO sports steroid scandal while at the San Francisco Chronicle. With partner Mark Fainaru-Wada, Williams wrote the national bestseller “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports.” In 2006, the reporting duo was held in contempt of court and threatened with 18 months in federal prison for refusing to testify about their confidential sources on the BALCO investigation. The subpoenas were later withdrawn. Williams’ reporting also has been honored with the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award; the Gerald Loeb Award for financial reporting; and the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment. He graduated from Brown University and UC Berkeley. He also worked at the San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune and the Daily Review in Hayward, California.

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.